WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A late-afternoon season-opener for both the Ephs and the Continentals of Hamilton College on Tuesday saw the Ephs triumph 1-0, in spite of the rather unkind conditions on Cole Field. Temperatures clocked in at upwards of 90 degrees and required a water break half way through each period, but that did little to affect another outstanding Eph defensive performance, as well as a reinforced Eph front line, with Audrey Thomas producing the lone goal of the affair just minutes after the restart.
It was the swiftest of counter attacks, as Maddie Swarr halted a developing Continental foray forward in the 49th minute, laid the ball off quickly to teammate Crystal Lewin in the heart of midfield, who then pinged a long ball over the top to Thomas. The Washington native beat both Continental central defenders to the ball and neatly chipped the on-rushing Emily Dumont to get the Ephs off the mark for the 2015 campaign.
"[Hamilton] are one of the most underrated teams in the NESCAC. They are well organized and have dangerous players, and it showed today. They caused problems, and we had to solve them and I wasn't expecting any less," were the words on the lips of Eph head coach Michelyne Pinard after the game, and her words rang true throughout the game.
Thomas' goal was not the first chance of the game, as each side rattled the woodwork in the first half.
First, it was Kristi Kirshe for the Ephs in the 20th minute, as she received a beautiful through ball from Eph co-captain Mai Mitsuyama, rounded Dumont, but the angle was just too tight for her shot to avoid the post.
Four minutes later, it was Becca Rees for the Continentals, who made one of her trademark imperious runs down the left, before cutting inside and rifling a shot that caromed squarely off the crossbar and back into the center of the box. Fortunately for the Ephs, Amanda Becker's follow-up effort found the reassuring arms of the keeper, Tressa Palcheck.
In the 37th minute, Thomas had the best chance of the first half for either side to open up the scoring. Evan Gancedo made a probing run down the right, darting past her defender before she sent a teasing ball towards the back-post for Thomas, who wasn't quite able to turn the ball into a gaping net.
The game entered the break scoreless, but Thomas' goal came just minutes after play resumed.
The Continentals responded well to that setback, however, as it took them only six minutes to work themselves back into the game and create a chance to equalize. Morgan Fletcher made a beautiful overlapping run down the right touchline, creating space for her to center the ball to Becker, but Becker was unable to keep her shot down, sending it well over Palcheck's crossbar.
Lewin had a chance to double the Ephs' advantage three minutes later, after Dumont made an error playing the ball out from the back. However, the Continental defense recovered well and applied enough pressure to prevent Lewin from punishing Dumont for her impropriety.
As the heat began to take its toll, the pace of Eph sophomore, Hanna Kaeser, really began to show, as she bombed down the left wing in the 69th minute, only to be fouled just outside the penalty area. Jacqueline Simeone's resulting free kick never had enough dip though, and failed to trouble Dumont.
In the dying minutes, chances became harder and harder to come by, and the Ephs did well to lock up shop and shut down the game for the most part. Nevertheless, the dangerous Continental attack managed to create one final chance in the 85th minute, as the industrious Ali Clarke won a corner off the Eph defense. Rees sent in an out-swinging ball that rattled around the Eph penalty area for a few heart-stopping moments, before Olivia Simone managed to get off a shot that flew gratefully over Palcheck's bar.
"Defensively, we're younger and a little less experienced this year compared to last year," commented Pinard on her team's defense after the game, "but we were very pleased with the all-around performance today with how they worked through their kinks and got better as the game progressed. Zoe [Trutner] and Tressa [Palcheck] really did well and kept our backline organized throughout the game."
With the 1-0 win, the Ephs recorded their first clean sheet of the 2015 season and sealed a crucial first win in NESCAC play from a dangerous conference opponent.
Both the Ephs and the Continentals are back in action on Saturday, as they play Trinity and Bates respectively. The Ephs look to continue their positive start to the season and have a 12PM start time in Hartford, while the Continentals look to rebound and are set for an 11AM kickoff back at home in Clinton.